Saturday, March 18, 2017

Supplementary Halos

There are a variety of meanings appended to the sense of freedom. 

We might mean moral freedom, implying that we are responsible and not absolutely determined; that causality is efficient in some sense; that material causes do not strictly determine the ends that one is inclined towards. It's complicated, of course; but moral freedom starts with the assumption that one is always free, “radically free” as Sartre put it; for even in the moment of strict coercion, one can still choose. In The Nick of Time, Johnny Depp is coerced to kill some politician, or his daughter will die. Sartre's point is merely that no situation necessarily produces a predetermined result. So even though the choices are limited (Kill this politician or do not (and your daughter will die)), the fact is that Johnny is not determined to do X to the exclusion of Y. It is likely that most people will kill someone they don't know rather than permit someone they love to die, but perhaps not; perhaps one will choose to end their own life instead, avoiding the given disjunctive choice altogether. In this sense, the claim is that

F1: One is always radically free from a metaphysical perspective because nothing coerces us (or determines us) to choose any end.

Of course, the argument may be that there is some prior causal sequence that explains whatever end there may be, and that therefore, the will is nothing more than an alley way of drives that precede it to their ends. And yet, in the moment of coercion above, it seems evident that no drive explains what Johnny Depp is going to do; after the fact, we might explain it--give it a narrative; but in the moment it seems unclear, and the latter ad hoc explanation seems to give us no real understanding into the meaning of coercion, the moment of choice, which one is “under”. Neither the drive to kill the politician nor the drive to let his daughter die, nor the self-destructive drive to kill himself, can offer itself in any objective prediction. The drives give us plausibilities, not necessities. 

Perhaps then, this sense of radical freedom, is not freedom as we usually mean it; and of course that makes sense. For we are rarely coerced. Or is it more the case that we rarely feel like we are coerced? 

It is for this reason that I wish to entertain another sense: political freedom under the presumption that No one feels coerced to live life.

Financial freedom and political freedom go hand in hand, we are told. If you have enough money to survive, evidently you are free from the burden of work. If you have enough money to have whatever you could ever want, you would always be free from simplicity, and free from having to do anything necessary. (You could always pay someone to do anything, and everything). If you are poor, you will of course never be free from doing anything necessary, and you are likely, intuitively, not to be free from desiring more. 

Epicurus distinguished necessary needs and non-necessary needs; to track only the former is to be run by the principle of simplicity; to have a problem with simplicity and to only focus on non-necessity is to be run by the desire for more. The question of being run by X (being had by X) and having X, then, strikes me as relative; one has what one is not had by. Therefore, the rich are had by avarice but they have necessity; the poor are had by necessity but they have avarice (perhaps). Therefore,

F2: One is free from X to the extent that one has whatever X one isn’t had by. 

I said above that no one feels coerced to live life. And yet what I mean is simply that being had by debts, life, and work, if such is your conception of life—which is the conception of life we desire if we are fully sublimated by civilization—makes it so that we have nothing but homelessness. (We are not had by the need to find shelter.) That is, if we live life as it is designed for us by the forces of biopolitics, the only thing that we are truly beyond (the only thing we have) is dependence in the sense of fully depending on the charity of weather, good people, and luck outside the city gates, of course to the degree that we are financially independent. Thus, if we are fabulously rich, we are not had by these biopolitical forces, we have them; and yet, as we said above, we are then probably had by avarice, an insatiable greed for more security for the self in things. 

So from this, the notion of coercion follows to the degree that we are had; and the phenomenological sense that we are had depends on how much financial freedom we have. One is always had by something; the rich by avarice, the poor by necessity. Accordingly, there is no such thing as autonomy. The homeless man, however, while he is had by the need for shelter and security, mirrors the wealthy person who is had by avarice; if only either would turn back into the security of necessity. Then one can be free of even being had.

Is the homeless person had by necessity? There are needs in day to day life, of course, as Epicurus said: necessary needs are food and shelter and yet, in our culture, these things are readily available given the general rule of charity. The homeless person is not had; the homeless person is had (perhaps) by the need for more for themselves, a better situation. Or they are had by the shame that ultimately propels us towards Avarice. The homeless person, too, might have necessity all figured out. They might even have diminished every sense of fear.

Perhaps what Giorgio Agamben meant in “Halos” (The Coming Community) is simply this turning from vice into virtue: “The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different”.

 Agamben goes on to write:

“The theory developed by Saint Thomas in his short treatise on halos is instructive in this regard. The beatitude of the chosen, he argues, includes all the goods that are necessary for the perfect workings of human nature, and therefore nothing essential can be added. There is, however, something that can be added in surplus (superaddi), an “accidental reward that is added to the essential,” that is not necessary for beatitude and does not alter it substantially, but that simply makes it more brilliant (clarior).

The halo is this supplement added to perfection - something like the vibration of that which is perfect, the glow at its edges.”


The question of having nothing doesn't put one in a position to be unhad by anything. Something supplementary is required to make one indifferent in the proper sense. Joyful indifference places us beyond being had by necessity, but this turning, perhaps, requires a different sort of infusing. One is not naturally joyful, in Thomas’ sense; one does not naturally have beatitudes (stemming from their own capacities). Zoe requires a super infused addition. 

No comments:

Post a Comment